Living entails an ever-accelerating mastery of new technology, and nothing much is needed to accomplish the feat. No soulful reflection, willpower, or guts are required to obtain the learning. For example, we were given a Wii game center twenty months ago, an Apple Ipad2 ten months ago, and a one-month Netflix trial, for $7.99, 8 months ago. Netflix, which sells streaming video, allows us to view unlimited movies at any time of day or night. We soon discovered that we could simultaneously watch movies on the computer, the television (through the Wii menu), and on the IPad screen. Three people can watch different shows on different screens at the same time. The one-month trial has morphed into a lifetime monthly Visa charge, and into a set of newly minted bad habits. Our Blockbuster card is history, food for the shredder; we had been using it weekly only last winter. While all this was happening, I started this blog and have published twenty-one entries as of today. Three of them, it is worth noting, were  reviews of movies.

The point is that I became a film critic haphazardly through no deep choice of my own, surprising even myself. Also, I’ve become a terrible tennis player and worse ten-pin bowler on the Wii sports center, replacing a basic competence in both I once enjoyed in real life. All this is called creative aging by some accounts, but it’s more just good old-fashioned technological change accelerating all around us.

Truth told is stranger still. Much to my surprise, copious Netflix use led me, with minimal thought, to surface a latent preference for documentaries over movies. This new found preference for documentaries then led in turn, using a selected video as a text, to an uncomplicated system of employing Google, Wikipedia and YouTube for continuing education purposes. It works like this: choose the documentary menu on Netflix and select one from among the choices provided; watch the documentary; look up the documentary and its central actors on Google and Wikipedia for background information; plug the keywords for the subjects that most intrigue you from Google and Wikipedia into YouTube, and watch the dozens of videos that show up. Netflix rewards those who delve deep into a subject by suggesting five or six more videos in the same general field for future consideration. Onward one proceeds to the next video the following night, which produces five or six new suggestions after its completion. This is a teaching and learning cycle, a virtual curriculum.

Here’s an example. I chose a documentary on the band Steely Dan, who I had never heard of previously, having to do with the making of their breakthrough Album Aja, in 1978. Apparently there is a whole series of such videos featuring Band’s breakthrough albums. I loved what I heard of Aja in the documentary, and was blown away by the musicianship and extraordinary standards of the two high school friends who anchor the Steely Dan band, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Who are these two guys, I wondered, who had the confidence to write this music and produce it with the finest available musicians they could find? That’s imagination. That’s confidence. That’s leadership.

So, I look up the album and the musicians on Google and Wikipedia. Here are the Wikipedia web pages for Steely Dan, Aja, Fagen and Becker. I soon discovered that I knew many of their songs. Like everyone else who listens to radio, I’d been enjoying their music for decades without knowing it. Now I’m big fan.

What have they been doing recently? What of theirs is on YouTube? I look it up, in order, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, and Aja. Lots there. I’ve probably watched and listened to more than four hours of Steely Dan concerts on YouTube by now. Wow, check out the Canadian tour!

Where do the bad habits come in? Simple. I take the IPad to bed and watch YouTube Videos half the night. I’ve given up books before bedtime. My wife would like the lights out. Sometimes the earphone plug displaces and allows loud music to blurt after midnight. I’m often tardy or absent at the gym. I’m putting on weight. I worry about radiation from the Ipad invading my bones. Otherwise, I’m quite pleased with these discoveries, my mastery of the associated technologies, and the new musical experiences.

Idea! Wouldn’t this topic make a good blog essay? Why not write about it? Do you see how this system works? I hope you try it out yourself, you sons and daughters of Maine and adult learners of the world. It’s not too early to compile your wish list for the holidays and next birthday.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

September 21, 2012

P.S. This just in. My grandson Lance, who serves as technology consultant on pieces such as this, suggests that a link to the International Movie Data Base be provided for those would like more extensive knowledge on movies and actors, including their biographies and a list of movies the actors have performed in. Here it is: IMDb

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6 thoughts on “Steely Dan and Accelerated Technological Change

  1. Will,
    As long as you have the Netflix connection, please check out “Better Off Ted.” I think I watched the entire series during the 2 weeks my wife was traveling to China. Hilarious set up of corporate America.

  2. It’s 10pm. I’m in bed with my IPad resting on my stomach. Do I dare google Steely Dan, starting the course, possibly having to pull an all-nighter?

  3. Hi Will, I have been doing something similar with historical dramas, principally British ones. I look up the major and minor characters depicted in the drama on Wikipedia and learn about the particular slice of time and its historical intrigues etc. I have to be careful because so many people ended up getting their heads chopped off! This knowledge can really ruin a story (not to mention the effect it had on their life of course!)

  4. So true. Off to the tower and off with the character’s head. A decisive ending for sure, and a downer for anyone hoping for a happy ending. Shouldn’t more stories end with a pint of Guinness? That sounds like the fit way to top off a good day. Will

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